Pisces is a zodiac constellation that represents two fish tied together with a rope. While Pisces is the 14th largest constellation overall, it is still a challenge to spot in the night sky with its brightest stars, Eta Piscium, a faint yellow giant with a visual magnitude of just +3.62.
The mythology behind Pisces
The constellation Pisces is most commonly associated with Aphrodite (Venus) and her son Eros (Cupid), who transformed themselves into fish in order to escape the terrifying giant Typhon. The immortal monster had been sent by Gaia (mother earth) to punish the Olympian gods for defeating their predecessors, the Titans, and the story goes that before turning themselves into fish, they tied each other to a piece of rope at each end so they would not lose one another in the turbulence of the water.
A northern constellation located south of Pegasus
Pisces is a northern hemisphere constellation that can be viewed from between +90° and -65° of latitude. It is located in a region of the sky called “The Heavenly Waters” or the “Sea,”which contains a group of nine constellations with a connection to water. The easternmost fish of the constellation Pisces can be found just beneath Andromeda, and the westernmost fish just below the Great Square of Pegasus, with the imaginary line connecting the two traveling southwards in the direction of Cetus.
Pisces is best seen in November
Although the star constellation is located in the northern sky, it is bisected by the ecliptic, meaning that it is visible from both hemispheres at different times of the year. From the northern hemisphere, the Pisces star constellation is best seen in autumn, and in the southern hemisphere in spring. The ancient Greeks also welcomed Pisces as a sign of improving weather, and of the two fish, one sees the end of winter, and the other the beginning of spring.
The constellation Pisces looks “V” shaped
Pisces is the 14th largest of the constellations, taking up an area of 889 square degrees of the night sky. In terms of its shape, the constellation looks like a large “V,” with a “circle” of stars on each end of the “V.” The base of the “V,” which is said to represent the cord that ties the fish together, is formed by the star Alrescha (Alpha Piscium). The Great Square of Pegasus seems to fit neatly into the “V” of Pisces, which makes finding the “fish” on either side of the Great Square easy.
Pisces contains only faint stars
Although Pisces has no bright stars, the constellation is known for its large, massive stars, some of which are described below-
– Kullat Nunu (Eta Piscium) is located about 294 light years away, and with an apparent visual magnitude of 3.62 it is the most luminous star in the constellation. Classified as a yellow giant, the star is 26 times as big as the Sun, about 4 times as massive, and at least 316 times as bright. Kullat Nunu derives from the Babylonian words Nunu meaning “fish,” and “kullat” referring to the cord that ties the fish together.
– Gamma Piscium, the constellation’s second brightest star, is a yellow giant (G9III) found about 138 light years away with an apparent visual magnitude of 3.69. This 5.5 billion years old star is 10 times bigger than the Sun, and 61 times more luminous. Gamma Piscium is one of the stars that make up the ‘Circlet of Pisces’ asterism that represents the head of the western “fish” in the constellation.
– Alrischa (Alpha Piscium), the third brightest star in Pisces, is a binary system situated 139 light years from our solar system with an apparent visual magnitude of 3.82. The components are both A-type main-sequence dwarf stars which orbit each other once every 700 years. They are around twice as big as the Sun, with 31 and 12 times its luminosity, respectively. Alrescha derives from the Arabic for “the well rope.”
Other stars of interest in Pisces include the blue-white subgiant Fum al Samakah; the blue-white dwarf Upsilon Piscium; the yellow-white subgiant Omega Piscium; the yellow giant Omicron Piscium; the yellow-white dwarf Iota Piscium; the orange giant stars Theta Piscium, Epsilon Piscium, Nu Piscium, TauPiscium, and Chi Piscium, as well as several binary systems, including Delta Piscium, Xi Piscium, and Phi Piscium.
Notable objects include a grand-design spiral galaxy
Notable deep sky objects in Pisces include the M74 Group of galaxies, the interacting galaxies NGC 7714 and NGC 7715, as well as a number of elliptical galaxies (NGC 474 and NGC 57) and spiral galaxies (NGC 7537, CGCG 436-030, NGC 60, and NGC 514). Other objects of interest include the following:
– Messier 74 (M74, NGC 628) is located about 30 million light-years away, and is an excellent example of a grand-design spiral galaxy seen face-on. These types of spiral galaxies are noted for their clear, well-defined spiral arms. With a low surface brightness that gives it an apparent visual magnitude of 10.0, M74 is one of the most challenging Messier objects for an amateur observer to find with their telescope. Look for M74 about 1.5 degrees toward the east-northeast of the most luminous star in Pisces, Eta Piscium. The galaxy is thought to contain around 100 billion stars.
– CL 0024+1654 is a huge galaxy cluster about 3.6 billion light years away that is made up of mainly yellow elliptical and spiral galaxies. A notable feature of the cluster is the fact that it acts as a gravitational lens, bringing to the fore at least 4 images of a galaxy located about 2.1 billion light-years behind it – at 4, 10, 11, and 12 o’clock from the center of the grouping of yellow galaxies.
– Pisces Dwarf (PGC 3792) is a small, dim, irregular galaxy found 2.5 million light years away with an apparent visual magnitude of 14.2. Measurements suggest that most of the galaxy’s stars are about 8 billion years old, and although star formation has slowed down considerably, several small star-forming regions still exist in its outer fringes. PGC 3792 belongs to the Local Group of Galaxies, and is suspected to be a satellite of the Triangulum Galaxy (M33), located in the constellation Triangulum.
The Piscids meteor shower seen in August/September
Pisces has just one meteor shower associated with it called The Piscids. This weak shower runs from August 12th to October 7th, with a peak that runs from about September 11th to September 20th. Observers can expect to see a maximum rate of about 5 meteors per hour. A suspected northern branch of the Piscids could peak on October 12th, but the existence of this branch is yet to be confirmed.
18 stars make up the Pisces Constellation
A total of 18 stars make up the constellation Pisces, 13 of which have known planets. The star 54 Piscium, for instance, has a planet about the same mass as Saturn orbiting it once every 52 days, while another star in Pisces, 6 G. Piscium, is a yellow star 65 light-years distant, with two planets in its orbit.
Pisces astrological sign and association
In the study of astrology, the Sun is said to pass in front of this zodiac constellation between February 20th and March 20th at the time of the March equinox. In astronomy, however, the Sun actually passes through the constellation of Pisces from March 12th to April 18th, which is about a month later, after which time the Sun appears in the constellation Aries. Other astrological associations are:
- Date of Birth: Feb 19 to March 20
- Sign Ruler: Neptune
- Element: Water
- Birth Stone: Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise
- Metal: Platinum
- Color: Turquoise, sea green, white
- Characteristics: Dedicated, kind, good-humored
- Compatibility: Scorpio, Cancer and Capricorn
Zodiac sign astrology and The Age of Pisces
An astrological age refers to which constellation the Sun appears in at the time of the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of spring. From an astronomical perspective, we are currently living in the age of Pisces, which started in 68 BCE and will continue until 2597 when the Age of Aquarius begins. Every 2,150 years, the age changes, and many people believe that different ages are meant to bring different historical events that are predestined to shape the course of the future. After the Age of Pisces we will enter the Age of Aquarius.